Introduction to Classical Albanian Painting
An Albanian school of painting first arose in the early decades of the twentieth century with the works of Kolë Idromeno (1860-1939) of Shkodra, Spiro Xega (1876-1953) of Korça, and of Andrea Kushi (1884-1959) and Simon Rrota (1887-1961) of Shkodra. Among other well-known classical painters of the twentieth century are: Vangjush Mio (1891-1957), Abdurrahim Buza (1905-1986), Zef Kolombi (1907-1949), Sadik Kaceli (1914-2000), Nexhmedin Zajmi (1916-1991) and Guri Madhi (1921-1988). Young students in Shkodra were probably the first to exhibit their drawings to the public, but it was Vangjush Mio who in Korça in 1920 held what might be regarded as the first personal art exhibition in Albania. Mio went on to show his works again in Korça in 1926 and in Tirana in 1928, thus becoming the most successful early Albanian painter. In was then in May 1931 that the first national art exhibition opened its doors at the Café Kursal in Tirana, in which most major painters and sculptors took part. This exhibition proved to be a great success. That same month, a Friends of Art Society (Shoqnia Miqt’ e Artit) was formed with a view to creating a national gallery (pinakoteka kombëtare). An art school (shkolla e vizatimit), managed initially by Andrea Kushi and then formally by Italian artist Mario Ridola, was founded in Tirana in January 1932 which gave needed impetus to younger painters. Further major exhibitions were held in June 1942 and, under the nascent communist regime, in April 1945. Albanian painting, though modest in its achievements by European standards, could rely upon a solid tradition by this time.
The communist takeover at the end of the Second World War caused great upheaval in Albanian painting in the coming years, as it did in virtually all other spheres of activity. Some earlier painters withdrew from public life. Others tried to adapt to the new circumstances by producing works of the ‘socialist art’, but it is generally agreed that few works in the following thirty years had any sustained aesthetic value. Particularly difficult for Albanian artists was the decade of political turmoil from the cultural revolution of 1966-1967 to about 1975, when many painters were imprisoned or interned and many works destroyed. A zenith of painting in the socialist tradition was reached in the late 1970s and 1980s when revolutionary and nationalist fervour managed to inspire many artists to experiment cautiously in new directions. Though the works of this period were virtually all in the service of propaganda, many of them still have an aesthetic appeal. It was also in the socialist period that new institutions for the promotion of the arts were created. The Jordan Misja Academy was founded in Tirana in 1945 and similar schools followed in other towns. In September 1960, a Superior Institute of Figurative Art (Instituti i Lartë i Arteve Figurative) was created in Tirana that in 1991 became part of the Academy of Sciences.
In Kosovo, it was only really after the Second World War that strong impetus was given to the arts, when the country was part of socialist Yugoslavia. The seeds of visual art were sown by the School of Art in Peja, founded in 1949. The best students of this school went on to study at academies of fine arts in Belgrade, Zagreb, Ljubljana and, later, Sarajevo. In the 1960s, a fine arts department was founded at the teachers’ college in Gjakova and, in 1974, an Academy of Fine Arts was established in Prishtina. Painting was initially very much an academic tradition, with most painters being professors with their own studios. Painting, sculpture, design and the graphic arts flourished in the 1980s, but with the gradual political and economic disintegration of Kosovo in the 1990s and with the “cleansing” of Albanians from institutions and galleries under Serb rule, many Albanian artists fled abroad to Italy, Germany and France, etc. It has only been since the Kosovo War of 1998-1999 that individual artists have been able to enjoy success in Kosovo itself.
Since the fall of the dictatorship(s), Albanian artists are now able to give free rein to their creative impulses, both at home and abroad, though they have, compared to the communist period, been deprived of institutional support. The largest collection of Albanian art is that of the National Gallery in Tirana, with minor collections in Korça, Shkodra and Prishtina.